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Thursday, June 24, 1999 Published at 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK

World: Africa

Zimbabwe sends more troops to DR Congo

Zimbabwean firepower has helped President Kabila

Zimbabwe is sending more soldiers to the Democratic Republic of Congo - only days before African heads of state are due to hold a peace summit in Lusaka.

It is hoped that the summit on Saturday could see the signing of a ceasefire deal aimed at ending the DR Congo's 10-month civil war.

However, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has hinted that he and President Laurent Kabila of DR Congo could stay away if preliminary talks do not produce an acceptable draft agreement.

[ image: Robert Mugabe: Loyal ally of the Congo government]
Robert Mugabe: Loyal ally of the Congo government
Zimbabwean Defence Minister Moven Mahachi said he had sent reinforcements to the Congo, though he refused to give figures.

But the independent Financial Gazette newspaper reported that the new troops numbered 3,000.

This figure, if confirmed, would bring to 11,000 the total number of Zimbabwean soldiers in the DR Congo, where they are providing crucial support for President Kabila in the war against rebels who have seized more than a third of the country.

Ministers discuss peace plan

[ image: Laurent Kabila: Has previously refused to meet the rebels]
Laurent Kabila: Has previously refused to meet the rebels
The ceasefire agreement is currently being hammered out in Lusaka, by a group of southern African foreign and defence ministers.

"We have said we will only go there when the ministers have done a good job," President Mugabe said after meeting President Kabila in Harare.

"To us the most important thing is that we strengthen our defence forces, strengthen our own lines of resistance and prevent more ground being taken and occupied by the invading forces."

Regional peacekeeping force

According to a draft seen by the BBC, the peace deal could involve:

  • A ceasefire from next month
  • Foreign forces out within three months
  • Deployment of regional peacekeepers

    South Africa and Nigeria - Africa's two main military powers - have both hinted recently that they would be prepared to contribute troops to a peacekeeping force.

    Newly-appointed South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Zuma has also said she wants to put a high priority on resolving African conflicts.

    Regional effort

    Previous attempts to end the Congo's 10-month-old war have failed, with the government refusing to meet the rebels.

    The latest plan, which emerged out of a meeting of African heads of state in Pretoria last week, represents the most concerted effort so far to end the conflict.

    The peace initiative has the backing of most southern African leaders, and other senior figures including former South African President Nelson Mandela.

    Rebel representatives are already in Lusaka to discuss the terms of the agreement.

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